It is, of course, beyond dismal that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last night. The only upside to this is that it ensured the St Louis Cardinals, the National League’s most pompous franchise, lost. It is a very meagre upside.
The Boston Red Sox: insufferable in defeat, even worse in victory. It comes as no surprise, frankly, that Ed Miliband is a devoted member of what is teeth-grindingly referred to as the Red Sox Nation. Dan Hodges and James Kirkup each salute Ed’s willingness to embrace a cause as unfashionable as baseball. Why, it’s charmingly authentic! Better a proper baseball nerd than a fake soccer fan. There is, I concede, something to this.
But, really, of all the teams he could support, is anyone at all surprised Ed Miliband hitched his colours to the Red Sox mast? This is not simply a matter of fond memories from his Harvard days. Rather, the Red Sox and Miliband are comfy bedfellows.
If you were feeling unkind you might – and Ed Miliband probably would – say that, borrowing from Ann Richards’ quip about George W Bush – David Cameron was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple. Fair enough. But you might, if you were interested in being honest, also reckon Ed Miliband was born on second and thinks he’s hit a double. The difference between Cameron and Miliband may be real; it is also of degree not kind.
Moreover, like Labour, the Red Sox have an infuriating habit of ignoring their considerable advantages and preferring, instead, to think themselves a permanent underdog. Listening to Red Sox lamentations over the years you would think New England’s finest (sic) were some kind of scrappy under-puppy with whom the Fates, in their infinite and capricious sadism, chose to toy. A chowder-munching version of the Pittsburgh Pirates or something.
You’d certainly not be encouraged to remember that the Red Sox are one of the wealthiest franchises in baseball or that they have exclusive dibs on a territory populated by 15 million people. As under-puppies go they are a Dobermann. They are masters at kidding themselves. And conning you.
And yet the pretence continues. Even last night, as they moved towards their third championship in a decade, we endured the habitual Soxian fretting that fate might be armed with the lead piping and preparing to smite the Sox at the top of the ninth inning. How they would have howled had this been the case! The good and saintly people cruelly denied their just desserts again!
Sometimes you think the Red Sox crave victimhood because, secretly, they enjoy it. In this too, they are a perfect fit for the British left. The resemblances do not cease there. The curve of the Red Sox Nation, in my experience, bends towards the presumption of an unearned – utterly unearned – moral superiority. The Sox have suffered, you see, and, having suffered, deserve a pass should you be minded to consider judging them harshly. They are better people than you and me. And they will never cease reminding you of that fact.
And the betrayal! Oh, the betrayal! There was the codswallop of the Curse of the Bambino (a crutch for self-inflicted failure if ever there was one). Then, latterly, there was Bucky Fucking Dent and bloody Bill Buckner. Each proof, somehow, of a grand celestial conspiracy against the Sox. Cry me a river.
But as the years passed so Red Sox fans bathed in their self-pity. Each defeat, each disaster, each betrayal remained raw, just as the Labour party never really forgives, or gets over, its own defeats. There always needed to be a scapegoat (though said goats should not be confused with the Chicago Cubs’ own, imagined, caprine woes). Moving on? That’s for other people. People who are realists. Yankees.
In their century-long battle with America’s Team, the Red Sox have, to put it in crude political terms, been the Democrats to the Yankees’ Republicans. (Right down, if you want to be mean about these things, to the fact that the Sox protected the colour-bar longer than every other team in baseball.)
The Berkeley linguist and political theorist George Lakoff was, at least for a while, fashionable in Democratic circles for his theory that the Democrats were the “mummy” party in American politics while the Republicans were the “daddy” party. It is tempting – possibly a mite too tempting – to view the relationship between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in comparable terms. Plenty of Red Sox fans have seemed to do so down the years.
The daddy team is strict and realistic and sometimes harsh. He is a reminder of eternal truths, many of which, especially those pertaining to money and power, can be harsh. A bully, frankly, sometimes. The mummy team is kinder, gentler, more nurturing. She will always love you and forgive you your failings just as you are expected to forgive hers. And you will always have your dreams.
You may object that these are crude stereotypes and tsunami-sized generalisations and you would have at least half a point. Nevertheless, in politics as in sport, the presumption of some kind of moral superiority always grates. Your opponents are not simply your opponents. They are evil. It is worth noting that Red Sox people are fond of referring, often without any noticeable trace of irony, to their New York rivals as the Evil Empire. (I say to my fellow Yankees, we should make a virtue of this.)
The difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox is that the Yankees have usually been better at baseball just as the Conservatives have won more elections than Labour. But, at least in my experience, Yankees people do not consider themselves superior to people who merely disagree with them. These poor souls are misguided but they are entitled to their quaint beliefs and superstitions.
Ed Miliband, however, I reckon really does consider himself – and his tribe – morally and ethically superior to his opponents. That is bad enough. Couple it with the fact that Labour, like the Red Sox, begin from a position of considerable – and relatively-speaking, enormous – strength and it becomes close to insufferable. At least New York’s finest know we begin from an advantageous position.
The Yankees’ decline – 2009’s championship notwithstanding – has been grim. A litany of errors and, like George W Bush’s America, the Yanks must grapple with the consequences of self-inflicted fiscal incontinence. But, mercifully, we know there is no-one to blame but ourselves. That is the first step towards recovery.
Mark this too: the Empire will recover. Like America, you can’t keep the Yankees down. At least not for long. If 2009 proves the last flickering of the Yankee Empire then baseball is in trouble just as surely as the relative decline of American power may yet prove problematic for all of us. That, however, is a conceit or a fancy for another day.
Ed Miliband is a devoted fan of the Boston Red Sox. This is all you need to know to wish he never becomes Prime Minister of the blessed realm.